Clew Bay, (Irish Cuan Mo) is a natural Atlantic ocean bay in County Mayo . It contains Ireland’s best example of sunken drumlins from retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age and was inundated when sea levels rose. According to tradition, there is an island in the bay for every day of the year. The bay is overlooked by Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, and the mountains of North Mayo. Clare Island guards the entrance of the bay. From the southwest part of the bay eastwards are Louisburgh, Lecanvey, Murrisk, and Westport; north of Westport is Newport, and westwards from there lies Mulranny, gateway to Achill. From the south side of the bay, between Clare Island and Achill, Bills Rocks can be seen.
Clew Bay was the focus of the O’Malley family possessions in the Middle Ages, and is associated especially with Grainne O’Malley – the legendary pirat queen whose castles on Clare Island and near Newport can still be visited.. During the Irish Civil War in July 1922, 400 Free State troops were landed at Clew Bay to take Westport and Castlebar from Anti-Treaty forces. The bay is also home to Dorinish, a private island purchased by John Lennon in 1967. Clew Bay itself is an internationally recognised sea angling centre hosting many sea fishing competitions each year and it is renowned for being the best venue for common skate fishing in the country and holds the Irish record for a 160 lb white skate. It is also considered one of the best venues for tope, huss and ray.
Croagh Patrick (Irish: Cruach Phadraig meaning “(Saint) Patrick’s stack”), nicknamed the Reek, is a 764 metres (2,507 ft) tall mountain and an important site of pilgrimage in County Mayo, Ireland. It is 8 kilometres (5 mi) from Westport, above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey with Bertra Beach at its base. Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are spectacular from all stages of the ascent of the mountain.
It is the third highest mountain in County Mayo after Mweelrea and Nephin. On “Reek Sunday”, the last Sunday in July every year, over 15,000 pilgrims climb it. It forms the southern part of a U-shaped valley created by a glacier flowing into Clew Bay in the last Ice Age. Croagh Patrick is part of a longer east-west ridge; the westernmost peak is called Ben Goram. Croagh Patrick has been a site of pilgrimage, especially at the summer solstice, since before the arrival of Celtic Christianity. Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century and built a church there. It is said that at the end of Patrick’s 40-day fast, he threw a silver bell down the side of the mountain, knocking the she-demon Corra from the sky and banishing all the snakes from Ireland.
Croagh Patrick was one of the biggest ancient sources of Gold in Ireland and the gold of some ancient gold hoard discoveries in Britain have been chemically traced back to this mountain. A seam of gold was discovered in the mountain in the 1980s: overall grades of 14 grams (0.45 ozt) of gold per tonne in at least 12 quartz veins, which could produce potentially over 300,000 troy oz of gold (worth over Euro 450m by 2020 gold prices). Mayo County Council elected not to allow mining, deciding that the gold was “fine where it was”. An archaeological excavation licensed by the National Monuments service commenced on August 2 1994. It discovered evidence of Christian activity but also showed that Croagh Patrick was a place of tremendous importance in the pre-Christian era, as indicated by the discovery of a Celtic hill fort encircling the summit of the mountain. The exciting discovery of a dry stone oratory push back further in time our knowledge of pilgrimage architecture on the summit. It is akin to the Gallarus Oratory in County Kerry and has been radiocarbon dated to between 430 and 890 AD.
Lecanvey (Irish: Leac an Anfa – flagstone of the wind) is a seaside village in County Mayo, Ireland, between Westport and Louisburgh, about 2 km west of Murrisk. It has a small beach with Lecanvey Pier, a Catholic church and Stauntons Pub.
Murrisk (Irish: Muraisc) is one of the Baronial divisions of County Mayo and also a village in County Mayo, Ireland, on the south side of Clew Bay, about 8 km west of Westport and 4 km east of Lecanvey. The ruined Murrisk Abbey just to the seaward side of the village was an Augustinian abbey founded in 1457 by the O’Malley family. It was suppressed in the Reformation, but survived for some time. Murrisk is also the site of Ireland’s National Famine Memorial, designed by Irish artist John Behan, which abstractly resembles a coffin ship filled with dying people. The monument was unveiled in July 1997 by President Mary Robinson.
Bertra Strand – the nearest beach to Westport – is a spectacular location as a 2 km longshore Bar with Sanddunes juts into Clew Bay giving amazing views of the Islands and Croagh Patrick. This blue flag beach It is a favorite with Wind-surfers and Kite-surfers and one of the best sea-angling and bird-watching spots in the area.
Pirate Queen Grainne Ni Mhaille (c. 1530 – c. 1603), usually known in English as Grainne O’Malley or Grace O’Malley,, was Queen of Umaill, Chieftain of the Clan O Maille, and an Irish pirate known as “The Sea Queen Of Connaught”. She and her clan are an important influence shaping the history and identity of the Clew Bay area. Her castles and strongholds such as the Clare Island Castle and the Carraigahowley Castle near Newport can still be visited and there is an interpretive centre in Louisburgh.
She was the daughter of Eoghan Dubhdara O Maille, chieftain of the O Maille clan and a direct descendant of its eponym, Maille mac Conall. The O Mailles controlled most of what is now the barony of Murrisk in South-West County Mayo and recognized as their nominal overlords Mac William lochtar Bourkes, who controlled much of what is now County Mayo. Unusual among the Irish nobility of the time, the O Mailles were a seafaring family and taxed all those who fished off their coasts, which included fishermen from as far away as England. According to Irish legend, as a young girl Ni Mhaille wished to go on a trading expedition to Spain with her father, and on being told she could not because her long hair would catch in the ship’s ropes, she cut off most of her hair to embarrass her father into taking her, thus earning her the nickname “Grainne Mhaol” ( from maol bald or having cropped hair). The name stuck, and was usually anglicised as Granuaile.
Even as a young woman Grainne Ni Mhaille was involved in the business of sailing ships and international trade. Around the time of her first husband’s death came the initial complaints to the English Council in Dublin from Galway’s city leaders that O’Flaherty and Ni Mhaille ships were behaving like pirates. Because Galway imposed taxes on the ships that traded their goods there, the O’Flahertys, led by Ni Mhaille, decided to extract a similar tax from ships traveling in waters off their lands. Ni Mhaille’s fast flat bottomed ships (with sails and Oar) – suitable for the shallow waters around the inner islands of Clew Bay would stop and board the traders – and demand either cash or a portion of the cargo in exchange for safe passage the rest of the way to Galway. Resistance was met with violence and even murder. Once they obtained their toll, the O’Flaherty ships would disappear into one of the many bays in the area. By the early 1560s, Ni Mhaille had left O’Flaherty territory and returned to her father’s holdings on Clare Island. She recruited fighting men from both Ireland and Scotland, transporting the gallowglass mercenaries between their Scottish homes and Irish employers and plundering Scotland’s outlying islands on her return trips. In an apparent effort to curry favor with the English, which were engaged in a re-conquest of Ireland at the time, Ni Mhaille went to the Lord Deputy of Ireland and offered two hundred fighting men to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland.
Ni Mhaille attacked other ships at least as far away as Waterford on the south central coast of Ireland, as well as closer to her home port in northwestern Ireland. She did not limit her attacks to other ships. She attacked fortresses on the shoreline, including Curradh Castle at Renvyle and the O’Loughlin castle in the Burren. She also attacked the O’Boyle and MacSweeney clans in their holdings in Burtonport, Killybegs and Lough Swilly.
Ni Mhaille was wealthy on land as well as by sea. She inherited her father’s fleet of ships and land holdings, as well as the land her mother had owned. Around the time of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth I of England, she owned herds of cattle and horses that numbered at least one thousand. Piracy pays – she was wealthy.
Westport, (Irish: Cathair na Mart, historically anglicised as Cahernamart) is a town in County Mayo, Ireland. It is situated on the west coast of Ireland, at the south-east corner of Clew Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean. Westport has a town centre designed by James Wyatt in 1780, in the Georgian architectural style. Its layout follows the medieval principles of urban design introduced by the Normans in the 13th century. The design for the town was commissioned by the Lord Sligo of the nearby stately home, Westport House, as a place for his workers and tenants to live. A particular feature is the incorporation of the river into the composition, contained for two blocks by low stone walls producing, on each side of the river, attractive tree lined promenades (The Mall) with several stone bridges over the river Carrow Beg. The layout further includes several tree lined streets, addressed by the narrow fronted commercial buildings typical of Irish towns, though with many here remaining of a singular refinement and charm. Westport was a residence of the pirate chief, Grainne Ni Mhaille, in the mid-to-late 16th century.
Westport House was designed by the famous architects Richard Cassels and James Wyatt in the 18th century, Westport House is considered one of Ireland’s most beautiful historic homes open to the public and is situated in an impressive parkland setting with a lake, terraces, gardens and magnificent views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick. It was built and is still privately owned by the Browne family, who are direct descendants of the 16th century pirate, Grainne Ni Mhaille, Queen of Umaill.
Westport is a popular tourist destination and has won the Irish Tidy Towns Competition three times in 2001, 2006 and 2008. The Population of Westport (including environs) was identified as 5,475 persons in the census (2006). This was an increase of 19% over the 10-year period 1996-2006. People from Westport town are traditionally known as Coveys. Some decades ago the Covey dialect still existed and was unintelligible to outsiders. For example the Covey word for a woman was a “doner”. To this day inhabitants of nearby areas, including Castlebar, refer to the people of Westport as Coveys.
Westport History : Westport originates and gets its name, in Irish, from a 16th century castle–Cathair na Mart (meaning: The Stone Fort of the Beeves or The City of The Fairs)–and surrounding settlement, belonging to the powerful local sea faring O Maille Clan, who controlled the Clew Bay area, then known as Umaill. The original village of Cathair na Mart existed somewhere around what is now the front (East) lawn of Westport House. It had a high street, alleys down to the river and a population of around 700. It was moved to its present site in the 1780s by the Browne family of Westport House, who also renamed it Westport. Westport is designated as a heritage town and is unusual in Ireland in that it one of only a few planned towns in the country. The design of the town is attributed to James Wyatt, a famous English architect. He also completed Westport House, the stately home of the Marquess of Sligo and designed its dining room. Westport House had originally been built by Richard Cassels, the German architect, in the 1730s, on the site of the original O Maille Castle. The dungeons of the O Maille castle still remain. The most notable feature of James Wyatt’s town plan is the lovely tree-lined boulevard, the Mall, built on the River Carrowbeg.
Louisburgh (Irish: Cluain Cearban) is a small town on the southwest corner of Clew Bay in County Mayo, Ireland. It is home to Sancta Maria College and the Grainne O’Malley Pirate Queen Interpretive Centre. The town was constructed in 1795 by the 3rd Earl of Altamount, later 1st Marquess of Sligo, John Denis Browne of Westport to house Catholic refugees who fled sectarian conflict in the north of Ireland. Originally a planned town, it retains many of the eighteenth century features in style and scale. The 1st Marquess of Sligo named the town Louisburgh in memory of his Uncle – Captain Henry Browne – who fought on the British side, against the French, in the 1758 battle of Louisburg. (Louisburg -or Louisbourg in French- was a French named fortress on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.)
Louisburgh is built on the Bunowen River, part of which is a salmon fishery. Nearby Roonagh Pier, approx 6 km from the town, is the departure point for ferries to Clare Island and Inishturk. There are a number of amazing beaches in the area renowned for surfing and Horse racing such as Carrownisky beach ( Silverstrand and White Strand are also a must see further west). Each year, on the May Bank Holiday Weekend, the town hosts a traditional music festival – Feile Chois Chuan – which attracts a large number of enthusiasts from many parts of Ireland and abroad.
Newport, historically known as Ballyveaghan (Irish: Baile Ui Fhiachain), is a small picturesque town in the Barony of Burrishoole County Mayo, Ireland with a population of 590 in 2006. It is located north of Westport. on the mouth of the black Oak River thus forming a natural harbour along the shore of Clew Bay. The county town of Castlebar is approx 18 km east of Newport. The Black Oak River flows through the centre of the town and there are pleasant walking paths along its grassy banks.
Newport was established in the early 18th century by the Medlycott family. James Moore, working for the Medlycott Estate, designed the Quay at Newport in a formal layout. The Medlycott family’s land agent was a Captain Pratt. Captain Pratt introduced linen manufacturing to the town under the management of immigrant Quakers who relocated to Co. Mayo from Ulster. It would appear that, although the immigrant Quakers consequently found living conditions in Mayo too difficult, the linen industry picked up in the mid-18th century and for the next forty years or so the town prospered around the industry, but in the early 19th century it again fell into decline as it was superseded as a port by the town of Westport some miles to the south. At the end of the 18th century, the Medlycott Estate was taken over by the O’Donel family who built Newport House overlooking the harbour, which is now a hotel.
Burrishoole Friary is a few kilometers west of the town of Newport, County Mayo, Ireland and was founded in 1470 by Richard de Burgo of Turlough, Lord MacWilliam Oughter. It was built without the permission of the Pope – although later ‘forgiven’. Almost all the friaries and abbeys across Ireland were suppressed in the wake of the Reformation in the 16th century. Very few were rebuilt after that time and now only the ruins survive, pleasing, if poignant, late Gothic relics of what must have been among the most striking buildings in the countryside of pre-Tudor Ireland.
Achill Island – ( Irish: Acaill, Oilean Acla) in County Mayo is the largest island off the coast of Ireland, and is situated off north west from Clew Bay. It has a population of 2,700. Its area is 148 km2 (57 sq mi). Achill is attached to the mainland by Michael Davitt Bridge, between the villages of Gob an Choire (Achill Sound) and Poll Raithni (Polranny). Centres of population include the villages of Keel, Dooagh, Dumha Eige (Dooega) and Dugort. Early human settlements are believed to have been established on Achill around 3000 BCE. A paddle dating from this period was found at the crannog near Dookinella. The island is 87% peat bog. It is believed that at the end of the Neolithic Period (around 4000 BCE), Achill had a population of 500–1,000 people. The island would have been mostly forest until the Neolithic people began crop cultivation. Settlement increased during the Iron Age, and the dispersal of small forts around the coast indicate the warlike nature of the times. Granuaile maintained a castle at Kildownet in the 16th century. Achill Island lies in the Barony of Burrishoole, in the territory of ancient Umhall (Umhall Uactarach and Umhall Ioctarach), that originally encompassed an area extending from the Galway/Mayo border to Achill Head in Co. Mayo.
Achill has many tourist attractions such as surfing, kite-surfing, golf, ancient monuments and the ‘deserted village’. There are incredible beaches and amazing views from the famous Atlantic Drive.